[-empyre-] indifference and in/direct politics

Ashley Ferro-Murray aferromurray at gmail.com
Wed May 20 05:28:49 EST 2009

In the spirit of thinking aloud...
I too have recently been interested in the state of the political in dance.
As Stamatia questions whether or not dance has to be "directly critical of
economic, social or political situations," I wonder if critical motion
practice can be inherently critical of these political stakes. I like to
hope that it can. I am thinking of Peter Boenisch's "electrONic bodies" as
he suggests that it is not necessary to include "new" technologies on a
stage to "fabricate electrONic bodies and to implement the new cognitive
optic of electrONic culture in performance." He suggests that, when
choreographed or moved appropriately, this culture is inherent in the
critical motion practice. Similarly, I wonder if we can fabricate a critical
political commentary in motion practice without being direct, or overt.


On Tue, May 19, 2009 at 8:36 AM, stamatia portanova <
stamatiaportanova at yahoo.it> wrote:

> hi laura
> in fact, thinking about it again, I also agree that the notion of
> 'indifference' stelarc introduced into the discussion does not really work
> well in relation to 'inertia'. but the reason I think that is not because of
> the lack of movement of the inert body. to the contrary, physically
> speaking, an inert body is a body that 'exercises an equal force but with
> opposite direction', therefore opposing whatever force is applied to it.
> Inertia, therefore, is not inert enough, not indifferent enough, to
> correspond to the 'body without organs'. Indifference, to the contrary,
> 'is', as you say, the lack of interest, the abandonment of subjective will
> that is necessary for movement to happen, if we do not want that movement to
> be wilfully initiated by an ever-conscious subject (even just in terms of
> notions of post-modern falling techniques, that norah was mentioning,
> subjectively performing dance sounds very 'unsuccessful'). If the body is
> indifferent and 'empty', then energy, matter, movement or however we might
> want to call it, can pass 'on' it. Our in-difference is required, for
> difference to appear. This is what the movement and life of the stone or of
> the monument of Cleopatra's needle presuppose in order to 'touch' us, in
> Whitehead's terms. From this point of view, I really like the idea of a
> urban landscape having a memory of itself, and instilling it into us.
> I would also like to go back to the spastic body, or to the 'schizophrenic'
> body of Deleuze and Guattari, and say that for sure no fetishism is at work
> in these descriptions, but to the contrary when they talk about certain
> 'phenomena' as schizophrenic, it is exactly to avoid that sort of 'excess of
> pity for suffering' that can also very easily be adopted when talking about,
> for example, the experiences of Artaud. Pitying or trying to identify with
> suffering imply a lot of personal projections that sometimes prevent us from
> just seeing what is at work in a certain body. If Deleuze and Guattari had
> done that, perhaps one of the most interesting bodies of work, like artaud's
> work, would have remained 'unvalued', and that is the most unjust treatment
> he could receive 'after death'. Schizophrenia is usually sued by them as
> synonymous with creativity, or with a different kind of creativity. I am
> also not sure, as you are not, about dance (and art in general) having to be
> directly critical of economic, social or political situations. It might
> easily cease to be art, and become documentary, journalistic, politically
> activist, all sorts of things, but not aesthetic. I don't want to reiterate
> necessary separations or propose any kinds of laws here, I am just thinking
> 'aloud, like you, about some problems that often arise in art, not because
> of lack of political interest, but because of an excess of it. I made a
> little presentation once about thepolitical value of aesthetics. There is an
> 'alarmist' attitude, for example, of governments using systems of 'terrorist
> danger signalling' through the chromatic scale (red: situation of high
> alarm, yellow: manageable danger, green: no danger etc, as the BUsh
> administration often used in the past), and I was thinking what would
> happen, if we could more easily respond to these systems by perceiving
> colours in their aeshtetic effect, rather than being immediately drawn to
> receive a 'meaningful message' from them. for sure, in this way, less panic
> and alarmism would have ensued in many cases..
> stamatia
> --- *Mar 19/5/09, Cull, Laura <lkc202 at exeter.ac.uk>* ha scritto:
> Da: Cull, Laura <lkc202 at exeter.ac.uk>
> Oggetto: Re: [-empyre-] indifference and in/direct politics
> A: "soft_skinned_space" <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
> Data: Martedì 19 maggio 2009, 10:25
> Dear Johannes, dear Stamatia, dear all,
> … to follow on from Stamatia’s last post, I guess I don’t really believe in
> the notion of the ‘inert’. That is, from the perspective of the process
> philosophy I tend to share, there is movement everywhere – albeit that
> sometimes that movement occurs above or below a human threshold of
> perception. I like very much, is it Whitehead who writes about the movement
> of the monument – Cleopatra’s Needle – of the life of the stone. And perhaps
> this is where a connection might begin with the Shadow Casters project –
> with the memory of the urban landscape itself, not necessarily as a
> landscape that needs human memory to remember itself.
> On the other hand, we could say that Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of making
> yourself a body without organs comes close to the idea of producing an
> indifferent body, as a surface over which intensities – pain, cold, joy -
> can pass. However, even then, at least according to Deleuze and Guattari,
> what we reach once we have ‘sufficiently dismantled our self’ is
> ‘nonstratified, unformed, intense matter’ or ‘energy’. The BwO is this
> primary ‘glacial reality’ on which organisms and subjects form - nothing but
> these flows of energy, of difference in itself.
> Indifference, for me then, is less about the inert or inertia than about
> the absence of interest – a breaking away from an interested perspective or
> an ordering of the world from our own duration.
> I’m not sure I can now answer Stamatia’s question about the role of
> technological augmentation in all this vis-à-vis her example of the
> hysterical body. I guess the risk here – as with many of the bodies that
> figure in Deleuze – is that we end up fetishizing a body produced by a
> different experience of time (the spasm), in a way that neglects to the
> actual suffering of that body. At least this is my anxiety about Deleuze’s
> relation to Artaud.
> That said, I’m all for dance that breaks with the notion of the self as
> origin – moving from one rhythm and speed to another in a manner that one
> might call ‘schizophrenic’. I very much enjoy, for example, the specific
> kind of skill to move at unexpected speeds developed by performers like
> Rosie Dennis (http://www.suture.com.au/).
> To return to the question of ‘criticality’, I agree entirely with
> Stamatia’s argument that “it is fundamental for dance to be critical, first
> of all of itself”. But I wonder, then, how we understand the relationship
> between dance’s critique of itself and its critique of the broader
> social/political/economic context. Which returns me to the politics of
> movement in the city. I heard on a documentary recently about the urban
> planning of Paris conducted by Baron Haussman under Napoleon III – in which
> Haussman developed the boulevard system in order to prevent Paris from
> falling into another civil war. The idea was that the boulevards would be so
> wide, that the building of barricades would be impossible. At the same time,
> Haussman designed the city such that there was a direct connection between
> the military barracks and the workers districts – and any emergent civil
> unrest could be quickly suppressed.
> I guess my question is, how directly critical do you/we want to be? For
> myself, I know I continue to tussle with a belief in and commitment to the
> politics of perception – and as such, the indirect political value of works
> which operate on their audiences sense of time, space, body, mind and so
> forth (as we have already discussed) – alongside a sense of impotence, and a
> correlative attraction to the directness of activism. Clearly we need both
> kinds of practice in the world, and perhaps there is no reason to “decide” –
> certainly not once and for all. But I wonder how others manage this question
> of value…? Is that working with very new technology is somehow
> self-justifying to the extend that such practices involve a generous form of
> public experiment – showing what the body can do in connection with these
> various new softwares, sensors and so forth. Or if the dance is critical of
> itself, then it is also critical of these new technologies – and/or of
> techno-choreography vs. the ever-present critique of ‘gimmickry’ so beloved
> of evangelists of the ‘live’?
> Excuse my thinking aloud.
> Laura
> ________________________________________
> From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au<http://mc/compose?to=empyre-bounces@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>[
> empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au<http://mc/compose?to=empyre-bounces@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>]
> On Behalf Of stamatia portanova [stamatiaportanova at yahoo.it<http://mc/compose?to=stamatiaportanova@yahoo.it>
> ]
> Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 2:21 AM
> To: soft_skinned_space
> Subject: [-empyre-] R:   swarms, task envelopes,        trajectories and
> displacements...
> I also  find the concept of 'indifference' very stimulating and
> challenging, from many points of view... In particular, I find it
> interesting from a very literal physiological points of view: thinking of
> the body as the 'inert' surface animated by a flow of electrical energy. As
> human bodies in perception and motion, our fluid and broken experiences are
> always galvanized by electricity. The meta-stable equilibrium of this
> kinetic system consists of a normal release of electrons, and their ordered
> transmission through a network of nerve connections separated by tiny gaps
> (the synapses). 'Ordinary' movement depends on a smooth energetic
> transmission of electricity across the nerves: in Freud’s thermodynamic
> description, “the dominating tendency of mental life, and perhaps of nervous
> life in general, is the effort to reduce, to keep constant or to remove
> internal tension due to stimuli …”. Different kinetic pathologies derive
> from the alteration and disruption of this electrical transmission,
> provoking an over-stimulation of the nervous system and an autonomous
> hyper-activation of different bodily areas. An example of this excessive
> kinetic condition is represented by the sudden jerks and spasms of the
> hysterical body: being literally flooded by a flow of uncontrollable
> electrical energy, the nervous body becomes a 'schizophrenic' kinetic system
> whose spasms result from the abnormal working of its neural cells. In this
> sense, hysterical conditions seem to already reveal, without any recurrence
> to digital or analog technologies of any kind, an inadequate, involuntary
> and augmented condition of the indifferent body, a physical powerlessness
> that opens it to a more abstract potential. My question is if, and how, the
> technological connections exemplified by practices of technological
> augmentation show something more, and different, from the hysterical body,
> of if they are redundant to it. Perhaps the key to understand these
> practices is to consider not only the basic ontological condition of the
> indifferent body, but also the way in which it is inscribed by precise
> aesthetic and technical parameters of artistic intervention (the
> organization, or coding, Laura was also talking about)?
> The indifferent body is beyond its phenomenological subjectivity, beyond
> memory and anticipation, opening moments for a reflexions that, for once,
> does not depart by the needs of the ever-present 'I'. I very much like the
> idea of a dance that 'ends', giving time to re-think (always
> non-subjectively). I think it is fundamental for dance to be critical, first
> of all of itself. For this reason, I agree with Laura about the non
> contradiction and the possibility of having indifference and desire working
> together. What perhaps I don't clearly understand is the relation between
> this very much 'deleuzian' idea, and a political practice of movement
> strongly connected to the cultural memory of a 'cultural subjectivity' (such
> as in Shadowing the City). Indifference is not only a sort of 'neutrality'
> towards the categorizations of life. It is also a 'superficiality' with
> respect to the profundities of memory and expectation. Another word for it
> is oblivion.
> stamatia
> --- Dom 17/5/09, Stelarc <stelarc at va.com.au<http://mc/compose?to=stelarc@va.com.au>>
> ha scritto:
> Da: Stelarc <stelarc at va.com.au <http://mc/compose?to=stelarc@va.com.au>>
> Oggetto: [-empyre-] swarms, task envelopes, trajectories and
> displacements...
> A: "soft_skinned_space" <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au<http://mc/compose?to=empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
> >
> Data: Domenica 17 maggio 2009, 02:52
> Hi Tim and Ashley-
> Thanks for suggesting alternate ideas, constructing additional
> meanings and relevance to what was written and prompting a further
> response.
> Much of what we do affirms and perpetuates outmoded assumptions and
> perceptions about the body. I just wanted to problematize it and try
> to re-think, if not re-figure what it means to be a body- in both form
> and function. (The "I" in these references  simply means "this" body.
> It is a huge metaphysical leap to assert anything inner, anything
> other).
> We should neither affirm the biological status quo of the body nor
> should we be mimicking machines. What is more interesting is to see
> the body now as an extended operational system of mixed realities in
> both proximal and remote spaces.
> To augment and extend the body is not so much about enhancement but
> rather being able to perform with alternate capabilities and
> unexpected outcomes.
> Indifference allows not mere entanglement of bodies and machines but
> their assemblage. These assemblages of body, machines and virtual
> systems are constantly changing with the trajectories,  intensities,
> rhythms and duration of operation. Indifference is necessary for an
> erasure of agency at the critical moment that allows a coupling. This
> coupling can result in Chimeric Flesh.
> We are fascinated by the diverse locomotion of living things, of the
> flocking behavior of birds and the swarming behavior of insects. Of
> their complexity and seeming emergent behavior.  Aliveness is now
> enriched by the seductive, smooth and speedy motion of machines. Not
> only do living things move, but things now move too. Some relevant
> ideas that come to mind include   technology as the external organs of
> the body (McLuhan), the displacement of human capabilities into
> machines (Baudrillard) and the unexpected occurrences and accidents
> that occur with new technologies (Virilio). Accidents though seen in a
> more positive way,  as unscripted moments of possibilities and
> creativity.
> With Circulating Flesh, not only do bodies move but now bits of bodies
> are displaced from one body to another. Blood circulating in my body
> may tomorrow circulate in your body. Ova that have been stored are
> fertilized with sperm that has been unfrozen. The face of a cadaver
> becomes a third face on a recipient. Organs are extracted from one
> body and implanted into other bodies.  Organs in circulation. Organs
> in excess.  Organs awaiting bodies. Organs without bodies.
> When I talk about Fractal Flesh I mean bodies and bits of bodies
> spatially separated but electronically connected, generating recurring
> patterns of interactivity at varying scales.
> The proliferation of haptic devices on the internet will mean being
> able to generate potent physical presences of remote bodies and
> machines. To interact with force-feedback. Tele-presence becomes tele-
> existence when there are adequate feedback loops between a body and a
> robot. That is what's meant by Phantom Flesh.
> Unexpected  kinds of bodily trajectories have been generated. Bodies
> coupled with machines, bodies contained in machines, machines inserted
> into bodies. The body once only seamlessly moved in space with a
> continuity of time. Now bodies are  violently launched, accelerated
> and propelled across time-zones. This is increasingly experienced as
> displacement. We are not going anywhere now but rather we are
> sometimes here, some times there. We are all differently enabled
> bodies on varying prosthetic trajectories extending our task envelopes
> beyond the proximal (beyond the boundaries of the skin and beyond the
> local space we inhabit) and becoming remote sensors and end-effectors
> for other bodies and surrogate machines in other places.
> A prosthesis is not necessarily a sign of lack, but rather a symptom
> of excess. The HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) EMG controlled exoskeleton
> for example both prosthetically supports and actuates a disabled body
> or strengthens the musculature of normally functioning body.
> Perhaps we need more singularities. More moments of implosion. More
> anxieties generated by indecision. Unable to choose, the body stops,
> the body can't move. The dance ends. Time to re-think.
> Stelarc
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Ashley Ferro-Murray
MA/PhD Student
Dept. Theater, Dance & Performance Studies
University of California, Berkeley
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